Smells Like Keen Spirit - A Nirvana Q&A



A while ago I stumbled over a project called Nirvana thanks to a mention over at SuperMutant. It certainly is not the first time that one of our interviews features a remark along the lines of Â"a small team in [insert overly exotic countries such as Germany] is currently working on...Â". And so it happens to be that – here we go – a small team in Germany is currently working on a game that appears to mix FPS and RPG elements. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, featuring a freeform approach that might appeal to fans of Morrowind. If Nirvana was a package then it probably would have Â"Careful – Ambitious Content InsideÂ" written on it. Maybe even overambitious? Read on as Carsten Kny, one of the developers, shares some early details on the game!

Q: How many people are actually working on the project?

Carsten Kny: The team currently consists of four permanent members and two external people providing additional support.

Q: So, who are the people working on Nirvana?

CK: The level designer, who previously worked as graphic designer in the advertising business, also happens to be our modeller. He's behind all animations, textures, sprites and skins. He hates holidays and vacation with a passion and usually only sleeps 5 hours per night.

Our AI programmer is swamped with the enormous amount of work and is constantly crying for help. His eyes are usually reddened due to the time he spends looking at the screen. He's wearing his sun glasses no matter what season it is and claims that it blocks the whole light spectrum. I remember that one time where the waiter in some restaurant thought he was blind.

Our sound designer – who is also involved in an animated cartoon movie project – happens to run through the city with a microphone recording all kinds of noises in her spare time. Two weeks ago she even carried a heavy stone plate up to the third floor to her audio studio because she wanted to record some realistic and authentic walking sounds for our game.

Well, and my purpose is being the oldest guy in the team.

Working on Nirvana is not a job to us, it's an addiction. We're all passionate PC players and are sharing the preference for non-linear games. Even our interest in soccer has faded ever since we started making Nirvana!

Q: Have you developed games or mods before?

CK: Nirvana is the first project of this particular team, but all of us were involved in the production of games in some way before that.


Nirvana Nirvana

Q: The screenshots available on the website look quite promising. What can you tell us about the technical base of the game?

CK: The screenshots you're seeing were made on a PC running an old GeForce 3 card. That's certainly going to be an oldtimer in 2006, but it'll be one of the minimum system requirements. We're trying to keep them at a moderate level.

In many games the objects of the world are mapped (and scaled) with textures that have a set, constant resolution. The disadvantage of that is that low-res textures seem blurred if you get to close to them whereas high-res textures result in a performance drop.

In Nirvana the quality of the textures used depends on the z-axis position of an object. Everything at eye level will be mapped with high-detail (1024x1024) textures. That eats up quite an amount of (V)RAM, but is being compensated through the use of low-res textures for objects at higher levels that cannot be directly reached by the player. Thanks to the texture management it's not necessary to use techniques flat shading in the larger outdoor levels, e.g. cities.

There are no spiffy shader effects to be seen yet on the screenshots. We're not going to demonstrate them until we're completely satisfied with the result. The game is DirectX9-compliant. As for the polygon count/level of detail of the models, we're planning to make it dynamically dependent on two factors: distance and frame rate.

Q: So, what kind of engine is it you're actually using?

CK: Might sound a bit crazy, but we currently have two engines competing internally. Both meeting the standards an engine should support nowadays or can be enhanced in such a way. We haven't fully decided yet which of them it'll finally be, but the outcome will depend on how efficiently we can work with it and on the performance under given conditions.

Q: Now for the setting: Nirvana is based on a post-apocalyptic setting. What kind of atmosphere do you intend to create?

CK: Post-apocalyptic themes have been fascinating us ever since. It's like walking through the city while a tempest is raging. You see people looking through their closed windows. Watching the spectacle from a safe spot. The monitor happens to be such a window. And what we need is a game with the ambience and feel of a tempest. There are some movies that made it to capture that atmosphere, e.g. the Mad Max series, but Nirvana is not directly based or influenced by any of those.

Coincidentally, all of us also happen to be fans of Fallout. There's an abundance of RPGs that take place in a medieval fantasy setting. Games with a background comparable to Fallout are rather rare. Even more rare if you're looking for titles using the first-person perspective. That certainly contributed to our motivation.


Nirvana Nirvana

Q: What kind of locations will the player be able to visit?

CK: Abandoned places such as cities that were hit by neutron bombs, radioactive wastelands, urban locations that are under the command by different gangs and deserts. Rural regions like farm lands were mostly spared the huge disasters. We'll also have junkyards, ice deserts, mines, lost labs, bunkers, sewer systems populated by mutants. A forbidden zone – territory of the AI creatures, more or less peaceful trading routes. Nomad camps and destroyed industrial areas. And many interior locations like bars, warehouses or old subway tunnels.

Q: And in which part of the world is the game set to take place?

CK: We've already watched North America being destroyed in quite a number of movies, so we decided to go for Europe.

Q: Based on the initial information Nirvana appears to be a mix of FPS and action-RPG. How would you describe it and which of the games currently available or in development would you compare it to?

CK: There's quite a number of things that inspired us. Picture a mix of Fallout and Morrowind. Of course, the battle system will be closer to what you know from FPS titles.

However, we're also looking at things we liked in other games. The stealth-o-meter in Splinter Cell would be an example of that. It basically scans the texture shading in the nearby environment and displays it on a panel. The shadow panel is a brilliant idea – yet it doesn't require an enormous amount of coding effort.

Often enough parts related to the gameplay devour less time than those related to the development of the plot line. We always have an eye open for stimuli like this and are curious about what Stalker and Restricted Area may offer .

Q: What will the role-play component of the game be like?

CK: First of all, you can choose from different characters at the beginning of the game. You'll have skills that will develop as you're playing Nirvana. And there are lots of NPCs to interact with in one way or another. And the way you do that will have an influence on the game world.


Nirvana Nirvana

Q: How are the different characters classes going to affect the gameplay?

CK:Well, there are no mages in the game, but if you're looking for something similar you might want to be an explorer. A former mercenary is likely to have a hard time establishing a trading business. The trader again is better off avoiding fights – at least earlier in the game – in order to survive. Finding friends among those who have power will not be that easy if you happen to be an anarchist. Finding friends among rebels probably will.

There's no static, traditional Â"good/evilÂ" concept in the game. Each group has proper reasons for why they're behaving the way they do. The choice of your character partially determines which factions you're friends with or not. And you may change that throughout the game.

Q: Will there be randomly generated quests?

CK: Yes, but definitely not all of them.

Q: It's also been said that the player will be able to found new settlements which then could be managed by him/her. Could you elaborate on that idea?

CK: Well, Nirvana is a first-person game, so the strategical/economic part doesn't work the way it's traditionally being realized.

One will be able to start your own gang once you gained enough reputation among the NPCs. Enough reputation to convince at least five other persons. (Altogether your gang can have up to 15 members.) Upon having found people willing to join your side you'll have to look for a nice spot to found a settlement. The required building land has to be purchased from one of the big clans. You'll recognize these locations through signs stating that they're up for sale. You should take your goals into account before buying land. Once you've acquired a building site, the sign will bear the logo of your gang.

If there's enough money left then you can assign other NPCs to construct a main building. It's the only one that has multiple purposes. It offers enough space for your character and the following five NPCs:

The administrator is the person you have to talk to about constructing new buildings. He'll also send messages informing you about important incidents when you're not 'at home'. The hunter can get enough food and water to support up to 10 people. The medic is in charge of the ward. And, of course, will heal the player for free. If something's broken or not working properly it can be repaired by the engineer. The guard will help defend your place against intruders with his heavy machine gun.

The more your wealth increases through shares in mines or farms or money earned by solving quests, the more you can expand.

Other buildings that can be constructed: farm, water cleaning station, stock, storage, trading house, quarters, watchtower, MG station and barbed-wire fences or walls. And maybe a bar or labs – but we're still debating that.

Some of then aren't 'universal' and cannot be built everywhere. There's no sense in constructing a trading house when there's no trading route nearby. And an MG station seems pretty much useless if your settlement is located at a nice, calm and peaceful spot.



Q: And all that put into one game... well, that sounds very ambitious, doesn't it?

CK: Yeah, I guess most people will think we're crazy, claiming that a non-linear concept requires a lot more effort than a linear one. That's certainly true when we're talking about something like hypertext literature, but I think it's different when we're talking about game development. The more content you want to offer, the better a non-linear approach works. Morrowind, for instance, wouldn't have worked that well as linear game and that certainly also would have resulted in a longer development time.

In an extremely linear game you'd have an individual script or parts thereof for every single NPC. In a non-linear game you only need one script that takes values such as skills and variables into account. To phrase it in a more simple way: an NPC has to find out who he/she is at first. And then he/she determines his/her attitude towards the player. The difference between or similarity between variables plays a role in the generates the behavioural patterns. That way also NPCs – and not only your character – can change while you're playing the game.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

If you want to know more about Nirvana, you'll have to Babelfish your way through this rather early website. If you know some German, simply follow this link. Patience is required if you want to see what the final game can deliver as Nirvana is currently set for a release in late 2006 - which usually translates to 2007 by common industry standards since approximately 96.53 percent of all software projects receive at least one delay.



Great interview. Looks like they put a lot of love into the project. If it were to meet their ambitions - Fallout flavor in a Morrowind type open setting I think it would be a winner. Perhaps a 3D successor to Fallout - a definite one to watch.

This game sounds like it has a lot of potential, I'm looking forward to see if they can pull it off.

Spunior, just my curiousity, how do you pronounce "Kny"? Like nye?

Sounds interesting. Sort of Fallout + Morrowind + System Shock. I'm hoping it's more Fallout + System Shock then Fallout + Morrowind. Hopefully they'll be able to keep it up. 2006 is a reasonable goal but is sure a long way off!

Spunior, just my curiousity, how do you pronounce "Kny"? Like nye?

Hum, it's not that easy to explain. I'd say it's being pronounced like 'kanee' - if you kind of swallow the 'a'. (Unlike 'knee', where the 'k' is .. uh... Lost in Pronunciation.)

SpyNavy wrote:

Great interview. Looks like they put a lot of love into the project. If it were to meet their ambitions - Fallout flavor in a Morrowind type open setting I think it would be a winner. Perhaps a 3D successor to Fallout - a definite one to watch.

Paladin wrote:

Sounds interesting. Sort of Fallout + Morrowind + System Shock. I'm hoping it's more Fallout + System Shock then Fallout + Morrowind. Hopefully they'll be able to keep it up. 2006 is a reasonable goal but is sure a long way off!

Same thing I was going to say.

This would be fantastic if it ever gets out the door. Good find, Spunior.

Cool looking for sure. And with only four permanent members no less. One wonders how they'll pull it off.

Although the I-read-a-game-design-article-once-so-I-know-stuff part of me worries about him equating non-linear gameplay with simulated content. But that part's a smug, nitpicking prick anyway, so I wouldn't pay any attention to him.

The Idea sounds phenomenal. Great interview.

Damn! I wish I could read German. Babel Fish always seems to mix thing up slightly.

BabelFish Translator wrote:

Again a post office-nuclear game of roles?

Not sure the game will be that great with a post office element, otherwise it sounds great!